In this Blog, I hope to include thoughts and memories at greater length than can be accommodated in a 140-letter Tweet.
I am a retired judge. My long life falls naturally into four unequal parts: (1) Childhood, School, National Service and University; (2) Practice at the English Bar; (3) Service as a senior judge; and (4) Retirement (including a very active practice as a civil mediator and involvement in a leadership role in several different charities).
In what follows I will be drawing on all these experiences – and more.
If any reader would like me to explain, perhaps via another blog, anything I have written, a contact address is provided on the Contact page.
9th October 2016
A Landmark: 12 Months in the Blogosphere
Today my blogsite celebrates its first birthday. It started as an experiment, and I used the opportunity to post a number of my main extra-judicial writings over the last twenty years, including my 1993 Kapila Lecture, my talk about the Conjoined Twins Case, and my History of Judicial Independence in England and Wales, which I wrote 20 years ago for the New South Wales Judicial Commission.
This year I have ventured more widely, partly inspired by the very helpful contributions and comments which readers of these blogs have sent me from time to time. I have given a lot of coverage to the evidence given to Lord Bach’s Access to Justice Commission and the individual stories of injustice that were inspired by this initiative. More recently I have written about the serious contemporary problem engendered by false accusations which is leading, in a small number of cases, to men and women serving long prison sentences for crimes they almost certainly did not commit. And more recently the cruelties inspired by delays and incompetence in the assessment of severely disabled people under the new schemes for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) and Employment Support Allowances (ESAs) have occupied my attention.
Nearly 50,000 people have viewed items on my site since it got started. 80% come from the UK, followed by the United States (1617), Canada (1347), Australia (943), and New Zealand (693), with France (311) and Germany (247) leading the countries that do not have a common law tradition. I take particular pleasure in the fact that viewers in 2016 came from 149 different countries, with 21 of them boasting one viewer each. These included four brave souls from Cape Verde, Djibouti, Armenia and Venezuela. I look forward to welcoming them back – and many more – in the next 12 months (if the blogsite lasts that long).
The most popular blogs, in terms of hits over the full 12-month period, have been:
A Lifetime in the Law (1447)
Honorary Queen’s Counsel (684)
I continue to be grateful for the kind comments that are made from time to time about this rookie’s efforts by the giants in the field of legal blogging in this country. More recently, I was gratified and astonished when the incoming Chair of the Criminal Bar Association, Francis FitzGibbon QC, adjured all its members to treat my blogsite as a “must read”:
“For a clear and depressing account of the mess that legal aid is in, and why it has real value to society at large, you can do no better than to read Sir Henry Brooke’s blog. Since retiring from the Court of Appeal he has become the doyen of legal bloggers, and he should be a compulsory follow for those of us who use Twitter.”
11th March 2016
I have now been running this site for about 5 months, and there have been about 24,000 views. I continue to be grateful for the kind things that are being said about my highly amateur efforts at blogging.
The most popular blogs, in terms of hits, have so far been:
A Lifetime in the Law (932)
The 1993 Kapila Lecture (487)
The Conjoined Twins Case (478)
Honorary QCs (471)
16th January 2016
After more than 3 months the site is still going strong, and I am grateful to everyone who has written to show their appreciation. There have now been over 17,500 views, and the number of visitors from across the world is still growing apace.
To my surprise, on 11th December 2015 the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting selected the site for the “blog of the week”, saying:
“Sir Henry Brooke: Musings, Memories and Miscellanea
It would be inappropriate to suggest that Sir Henry Brooke, retired Lord Justice of Appeal and former chairman of the trustees of BAILII, had done anything so attention-seeking as to “burst” onto any “scene”, but his discreet arrival in the blogosphere has, in a few weeks, taken a great many readers by (deeply gratified) surprise.
Of course, Sir H has been tweeting for a while, somewhat confounding the customary prejudice that retired Lords Justices are too stuffy or remote to descend into the arena of not always pretty public debate that is Twitter (an online Open Mic session that anyone can join in and jump into, often to the annoyance of people who think they are just having a quiet chat in the corner of the tea room). Sir H is IT-savvy, having been a leading proponent and disappointed champion of IT in the law courts since a time when typewriters and dial phones were still being used. Now, instead of writing his memoirs in some port-infused seclusion, he is publishing them week by week, sometimes day by day, on his new blog. It’s been going about six weeks. And it’s fantastic.
Among the recent pieces is an account of the Chambers at 2 Crown Office Row he joined more than fifty years ago as a pupil in 1963, when lunch in hall cost five shillings and a lamplighter came round the Temple each evening to light the gas lamps. There’s also a personal memoir of Lord Denning, who mentored Brooke as a student of the law, and whom Brooke helped with a scheme of informal residential weekends at Cumberland Lodge to provide help and encouragement to overseas bar students, at a time when the Inns had a less inclusive and pastoral approach to them.
There are several pieces about IT in the courts, the disasters of the past, the hopes dashed, the dreams spurned, and more recently about the hopes rekindled in the Chancellor’s recent announcement of a £700m investment in court modernisation. There’s also a very interesting reprint of an article in which Sir Henry answered a number of frequently asked questions about BAILII (the British and Irish Legal Information Institute) of which he was formerly chair of the trustees.”
And more recently, and even more astonishingly, a well known Canadian law blogger, Leonid Sirota, nominated the site in a special category award for Clawbies2015 (the Canadian Law Blogs of 2015), saying:
“Sir Henry Brooke’s eponymous blog, for the “EuroCan Connection Award”: it has only been around for a few months, but this blog by a retired Lord Justice of Appeal is already an invaluable repository not only of recollections from a long and illustrious career, but also of thoughts on issues that matter well beyond England, and will matter well beyond 2015 ― notably the law’s and the courts’ relationship with technology, and their handling of multiculturalism and diversity.”
A few weeks later, for one of his three wishes for 2016 he hoped that a retired Canadian judge might be brave enough to follow suit:
“… A blog by a retired judge, following the example set on the other side of the pond by Sir Henry Brooke. As the Clawbies team once again reminded us when it attributed the 2015 Canadian Law Blogging Awards, our blawgging universe is ever expanding, and full of bright stars. It is, however, missing one, admittedly somewhat exotic, type of object ― a blog by judge. An active judge venturing into the blogosphere is perhaps too much to ask for; the risk of trouble might be too high, though I am not entirely sure about that. And, as Adam Dodek has pointed out, even retired judges who “trade on their ‘judge status’” to talk about controversial issues risk undermining the perception of the judiciary’s independence and separation from (partisan) politics. But Sir Henry’s blog demonstrates brilliantly that a retired judge can be interesting, entertaining even, without being controversial, and share his considerable experience with an online audience without compromising the judiciary’s image and standing. It would, I think, be great if a Canadian judge wondering what to do with in his or her present or impending retirement decided to follow Sir Henry’s example.”
My own view is that it is only safe for a retired judge to blog when he has retired for a very long time, but others may think differently.
6th December 2015
The site has now been live for about six weeks. To my surprise it has already attracted 5,385 visitors and 12,203 views. Although most views have been from the UK (9,920) with a further 1,200 from the common law countries of Canada, Australia, the United States, New Zealand and Ireland (in that order), there have been views from 60 other countries, which has fulfilled my hope that this site may help in illuminating aspects of the practice of English law, both now and across the last 50 years, on a worldwide basis.
I continue to hope that I will receive requests for topics I might be able to cover, before my imagination – and my memory – runs out. At present I am working through the request to say something about the changes I have seen in law and practice in my lifetime. I will then answer two other requests, by saying something about my National Service days and something about the relationship between barristers and solicitors in England and Wales. Watch this space.